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Dirty Oil Prevention

exqheat Member Posts: 148
Frequent breakdowns can occur, due to dirt and water coming from the tank to the burner.
Often the cause is something less than a tank removal due to suspected leak. These days the solution to all heating problems is a renovation of boiler tank and piping. CaChing CaChing. I would like to examine some the of the real causes of dirty fuel, and alternatives to expensive unnecessary renovations.

I would like to take the view that we try to locate the problem, without throwing out the system.
I hope all will join in with their experience, findings and creative educated view.

I had a frequent service history with a 1938 system that had a coal conversion boiler fed from an outside tank.

I began hunting and thinking. The first thing I found was the vent pipe was lose. I shook it and thought that it was lose for a reason. I dug it up. Sure enough it had rusted. Not knowing the rules, I simply reconnected the the break with a rubber sleeve, and the source of water was solved. I then decided to drop the measuring stick wiped with water detection paste. Cheap enough. The paste only cost a few bucks. In the old days my grandfather had to keep check on the oil level, so he could call for a delivery. I discovered the leak and condensation that may have occurred over the 50 years, may have indeed accumulated the 6 inches in the tank. Was the tank leaking? After looking at the fact that the tank was on the high side of a stone wall, i concluded that the well planned drainage, and the fact that oil tanks were overbuilt in the 1930', that I should have the tank pumped out to remove the water. I called in a pump out environmental company, and they found a good amount of oil and dirt. As they pumped out the tank they had a glass section on the hose to watch the flow. The dirt and water were quite evident. As the dirt and water became less in the glass, the pumping was stopped. It seemed, that when the tank was filled, all that stuff was mixed up in the tank. In the middle of winter, the system is on much of the time. Some of that mixed stuff would be taken up in the fuel supply line to the boiler. It would later send a water soil oil mix to the oil filter, then be whipped up by the burner oil pump and end up impairing the nozzle function at the nozzle screen and oil atomization tip.

I would like to suggest an early warning system for this problem, in addition to periodic water monitoring of the oil tank. Can you remember when all cars up to the 1960's had a per-carburetor glass cup that would remove dirt, rust and water from the gasoline before it went into the carburetor. As a kid I used to enjoy taking it off and cleaning it so I could watch clean gasoline go to the carburetor. The glass bowl would squeak clean as the gasoline really cleaned the bowl. Why couldn't we have a similar system for oil burners. As all homeowners are recommended to have a cup of coffee with their boilers once in a while, it would be a simple observation point to watch the condition of the fuel coming to the burner.

What do you think???
John Cockerill


  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,451
    I doubt Code would allow a glass bowl in a fuel oil system. Too much risk of turning the place into a Superfund site if the glass breaks.

    But ISTR a device that did let you watch the fuel in the line, primarily to see if there was air in it. Can't remember what it's called..............
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 14,474

    You can buy refrigeration sight glasses at a AC/refrigerant supply house. 1/4,3/8, 1/2, or 5/8" od copper with flare connections.

    Google Sporlan 15-U for flare Sporlan 15-S for sweat. Alco also makes them
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 5,452
    In the real world there shouldn't be any dirt or soil in the tank. I don't even think you can chalk that up to the broken vent. Unless it doesn't have a vent alarm.
    Condensation is treated with, well, tank treatment. 6 inches of water is too excessive obviously. The broken vent was surely a contributor but with anything less than a full tank of fuel, condensation will form.

    Buried steel tanks by me are being abated due to homeowners insurance. And for good reason I think.

    The safety net, to a point, is the oil filter(s), pump strainer, and nozzle. And of course annual maintenance.

    So if I understand correctly, you want a warning device or something for a visual inspection rather getting rid of old steel buried tanks? I hope I don't understand correctly.
  • vtfarmer
    vtfarmer Member Posts: 100
    You mean like this?


    I have one of these on my bulk offroad diesel tank and one on my payloader, which has a large fuel tank that tends to get condensation and internal rust worse than my other equipment. All of my other machinery has the glass sediment bowls you recall from your childhood on old cars (standard equipment on farm/construction machinery until recently).

    That said, HVAC nut is correct that using something like a filter with sightglass as a way of avoiding fixing the real problem is no good.
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,371
    A true oil/water separator that can be monitored/drained would be nice. Don't know if it's allowed by code, but can't be any less of a hazard (plastic bowl) then a tiger loop, or the fuel/separator that takes a beating on the road in any of my oil trucks.
    Hard to read/understand the OP's mumbled thoughts, but @HVACNUT is correct.
    Sounds like a leaking tank-whether it's the tank itself, or a problem with the piping.

    The problem is almost never the fuel, unless your fuel doesn't get delivered by a company that only gets their product from the refinery/refinery's tank farm. Or they are re-selling fuel they pumped out of other tanks-essentially waste oil.
    If you're in a rural area where the oil company has their own storage, that could be problematic. Especially if they are blending/storing their own bio.
    Fuel in underground tanks can be sampled, and the tank should be checked for water, then the proper corrective action can be taken. Also in PA, (probably many other places too) all underground tank are supposed to be registered with the state, and annually inspected and tested for leaking. There is no 'grandfathering'. There's also really no enforcement until there is a problem.
    Outside the US (Europe specifically), pumping/cleaning tanks with a fuel polishing system is pretty common. Here, almost never on residential tanks.
  • BDR529
    BDR529 Member Posts: 273
    Start removing the sludge and junk from a 40 year old tank you take the "dutch boy" out of the equation.

    Sorry Mrs. Jablonski tried to clean the fuel and now the tank is leaking.

    #1 Any tank problem= new tank
    #2 Undergroungd tank=Gotta go,end of story.
    Rotted pipes, yup thats old, refer to #1

    In MA we got alot of blended fuels and that's another set of problems.
  • SuperTech
    SuperTech Member Posts: 2,016
    I agree with everything above. Any tanks that are below ground gotta go. I'm not a fan of tanks outdoors either if it can be helped.
    It's always a good idea to have a double filtration setup on oil equipment, a general filter at the tank and a Garber spin on filter at the burner.
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 14,474
    Maybe the diesel generator people have something. There fuel tends to sit a long time.
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,371

    Maybe the diesel generator people have something. There fuel tends to sit a long time.

    Most gen service companies have/offer fuel polishing specifically for this situation.
  • exqheat
    exqheat Member Posts: 148
    As it turned out, I never had a problem after the solution of repairing the vent pipe and removing 40 years of condensate. The vent pipe was t'd off the fill pipe to the edge of the building. The rotten vent was about one foot deep and five feet lateral with elbow to the surface, in an area that provided plenty of water from rain events. So much for the not being the vent pipe. Service calls went down to one maintenance in the summer on the gold plan.

    Some years later I took advantage of a Con Edison gas conversion deal that was too good to deny. We were going to sell the house eventually, and the "REAL' Estate trade poo poo's oil with tank in ground for a resale home. So the double payoff was worth it.

    By the way the Oil service never recommended a product to accomplish my recommendation. When the tank was removed, there was no leak after 45 years. Oh, Con Edison sent one of their "certified contractors" that double sized the boiler. Con Edison delivered it with no proper sizing. I had to install the exqheat control to tame it down.

    I'll try some of the sites recommended. Thank you for that. I don't get the objection to glass. Have you ever seen the bowls used on the cars. They are not wine glasses, and not hard to clean like plastic.
    John Cockerill
  • exqheat
    exqheat Member Posts: 148
    Here is a possibility? What do you think?
    racor fuel water separator
    John Cockerill
  • Ignatz
    Ignatz Member Posts: 16
    I have a hard time picturing a vent pipe "tee'd" off the fill pipe. As a former tank tester, I would have thought that was a remote fill. The only way I would agree that the "tee'd" pipe was a vent, would be with a tank test.
    My testing equipment used vacuum, so I could tell in about 1 minute on a smaller UST that something else was open.
    Can a vent pipe be hidden between a concrete wall and wood siding? Can a vent pipe be hiding in an ivy patch?...yes
    I hand shoveled to the top of my 550 underground tank, to physically see what was hooked up to the tank. A fill pipe, vent pipe, and a suction and return line.
    To be honest, I've never seen a vent pipe attached to a fill pipe.
  • exqheat
    exqheat Member Posts: 148
    My memory may not serve me correctly. It may have had a separate tank opening. However the vent pipe was run to the side of the building to get it out of the way. That run rusted out and came off. No water after the repair.
    John Cockerill
  • Big Ed_4
    Big Ed_4 Member Posts: 2,520
    edited February 2020
    The problems can be solved by properly installed tanks .Water would get into a tank by many means. If the tank had a bottom feed and pitched to the valve , high enough legs to instal a filter at the valve to act as a water separator and service drainage .. And if the tank was installed in a dry environment there would be no issue . Top feeds improper pitched tanks are the culprits to sludge and leaky tanks .. Anything gizmo you add to one of these faulty installs will only buy you time ..

    I have enough experience to know , that I dont know it all
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,015
    Did your in ground tank had 6 inch of water in i the i would worry ,that water could compromise the tank . Hopefully u have tank insurance if not get it . The potential cost of a leaking tank into the soil is extremely costly to say the least and without tank insurance you are totally on the hook most ho insurance sober nothing. Pay get the tank tested . If your that worried about the burner and water then dig the tank to the top and raise the pick up this way you will just have water and slugs on the bottom not a real fix . As for tank cleaning it had from experiences always leads to a couple of late nite visits for filter replacements . Personally I would install a general and a spin on Westwood filter w a vacuum gauge if it’s 2 pipe switch to single w a tigerloop u will see what your oil looks like through the deairator . I like using the general filter so u can visually see what’s in the filter canister unlike spin ones but I like spin ones due to there finer filtering properties . A steel canister type unlike the knock offs are steel so even if the burner isn’t sputtering from water the steel canister will show rust as it canister is exposed to the water gives you a clue . As I tell customer s with old buries tanks pay the insurance or possibly be in debt to a large number and live in a van under a bridge down by the river . Old tanks are a liability in most cases either get a indoor or outdoor 275 or better yet a Roth tank and be done or really be done and switch to gas if available either of these opts also makes it less of a hassle to sell your home And doesn’t make possible buyers see expenses before even purchasing ,I have not personally experienced it but a few of my friends have and boy where they pissed hadn’t to buy oil sign stay w oil get a 275 to still be a oil customer just to be covered by insurance and then only to convert to gas pay to pump out the 275 and dispose . Be smart and he’d the warming signs or buried your head Andy look the other way . I say this is honesty not to be mean but it’s your hard earned money my self the tank would go the way of the dodos Peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • exqheat
    exqheat Member Posts: 148
    I removed the tank years later when I took advantage of a con ed boiler gas conversion program. The tank never leaked after 38 years. It was well drained, and water removal was only needed once. I have designed a visible sedimentary system with a diesel fuel filter with a bottom petcock to drain water and sludge as observed. ( Goldenrod No 495 fuel tank filter) I can use this with systems that are in need of operation during the tank change process. The heat can work and the water removed until sucked out or tank replaced.
    John Cockerill
  • Robert O'Brien
    Robert O'Brien Member Posts: 3,520
    > @exqheat said:
    > I removed the tank years later when I took advantage of a con ed boiler gas conversion program. The tank never leaked after 38 years. It was well drained, and water removal was only needed once. I have designed a visible sedimentary system with a diesel fuel filter with a bottom petcock to drain water and sludge as observed. ( Goldenrod No 495 fuel tank filter) I can use this with systems that are in need of operation during the tank change process. The heat can work and the water removed until sucked out or tank replaced.

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